A Brief update on Poetry, Art Music; A Celebration to Benefit St. Lucia

Earlier this year, way back in May when the year was fresh and promised endless possibilities, I shared with you my plans to host a fundraiser Benefit for St. Lucia after Hurricane Tomas thrashed the island late last year.

Well, I managed to pull it off and wanted to share some of this with you:

St. Lucia event listed in Chapman University's 150th Celebration Booklet

"Heliconia" one of two glicee prints donated for auction by artist Donna Grandin on display at Leatherby Library

" Bird of paradise" glicee print donated by Donna Grandin on display at Leatherby Library

Leatherby Library St. Lucia display

Me with poet Lynne Thompson and dirtcakes editor, Catherine Keefe

Dr. Anna Leahy, Director of Tabula Poetica, welcoming everyone with "See Me, See Me Now" (image from artist Donna Grandin) in background.

Me along with theater students Vano Kimmel, Kelly Rogers and Malia Wright who did a fantastic job of reading poetry by St. Lucian poets Travis Weekes, Jane King Hippolyte and Kendel Hippolyte. See also event sponsor, Catherine Keefe of dirtcakes.

Steel Drummer Francis Lynch creating great ambiance

Photos depicting St. Lucia before, during and after Tomas on display throughout poetry reading. Images provided by St. Lucian photographers Stephen Paul, Bill Mortley and artist Donna Grandin

Click here to view video recording of the event.

Again, I’d like to say thank you to all involved: Dr. Anna Leahy, Catherine Keefe, Leatherby Libraries, Lynne Thompson, Donna Grandin, Jane King Hippolyte, Travis Weekes, Kendel Hippolyte, Stephen Paul, Bill Mortley, Vano Kimmel, Kelly Rogers, Malia Wright, and last but not least, Deena Edwards for all your support and participation. This wouldn’t have been possible without you.

All donations were delivered to the Red Cross.


Natural Hair Revolution

Yveline Previl-Exantus one year after her second big chop.

Have you or someone you know been thinking or talking about “going natural,” making the “big chop” or growing locs? Well, I used to think this emerging trend was solely limited to my circle of friends but I now understand that we’re part of a growing movement. A sort of awakening is in progress. I can feel a change in the air, and it certainly feels like we are on the verge of a natural-hair revolution!

Lately, within the past year or so, there has been a lot of discussion about natural hair. Chris Rock’s Good Hair might have been the catalyst, drawing attention to the issues surrounding black hair, but since then, the revolution has picked up speed. New YouTube videos and Facebook pages on the subject are popping up daily, and a wealth of information on how to style, maintain and care for natural hair await anyone the least bit interested in learning more. We are doing away with the chemical relaxers and opting for natural curls, coils and kinks and are eager to share this rediscovered love.

Traditional hibiscus leaf cleanser. A gentle no-poo method. Photo compliments Caribbean Natural

Black women are caring for our natural tresses in new ways and are falling in love with our different grades of hair all over again. We’ve gotten a little help from beauty lines like Carol’s Daughter, and Mixed Chicks, lines specially developed to treat our hair and skin, but we’re also exhuming homemade concoctions.

My Caribbean heritage is rich with natural recipes made from aloe and hibiscus leaves, coconut oil, castor oil and honey.

Hand-made 100 percent PURE St. Lucian Castor Oil. Image compliments Caribbean Natural

All these ingredients are found right in the garden or kitchen cupboard and I’m making the best of it. Not only am I  embracing my roots by returning to these old recipes, but I also manage to save money while seeing and feeling the difference in my hair and on my skin. Ingredients like these make hair happy and we keep  finding new ways  to showcase our individualities.

No two heads of hair are the same, so the magic lies in this diversity and the ways in which we choose to showcase that versatility. We are learning to moisturize, accessorize, massage, twist, lock, curl and braid as we embrace individuality and breathe new life into our hair. I for one am loving it!

My sister Melissa and I way before the relaxer or big chop.

In essence, black women are re-learning to love their hair and I couldn’t be happier or prouder. Together, we brave and beautiful women, are raising consciousness about our hair and ultimately our health as we stop to consider the effects of certain ingredients found in products currently on the shelves.

I know it may sound strange to say we are “re-learning” to love our natural hair, because we start off both natural and loving our hair, but that sentiment usually gets turned around before the age of ten for black girls. Some parents start the ritual of straightening girls’ hair from as early as four.

Getting one’s hair straightened, either through applied heat or a relaxer, is a sort of rite of passage for us.  I remember family discussions about when I would be old enough for the application of my first relaxer, which happened about the age of nine by the way, because my mother couldn’t handle the texture. I never had a problem with my hair but learned to want something different and I trusted that my mother knew best. I still remember getting my hair styled in cornrows and two-strand-twists in my earliest childhood and I always liked it. I especially liked adding colorful beads to the ends, not just for the appearance, but the pleasing sound they made near my ears.

After my first straightener, my hair felt softer, lighter, longer, but also thinner, more fragile and somehow foreign. It never did feel completely mine. I don’t think I understood that I was saying goodbye to my natural hair for the next seven years and I understood even less that I would miss my natural hair so much. I would miss the way it felt to pass a comb through it, or how it looked with neat rows of well oiled cornrows.

Ashlei Alexander rocking a pipe-cleaner mohawk up-do. Photo compliments Loc'd and Lovin' it!

I kept my hair relaxed (usually wearing it up-in-one because I hated sleeping with rollers) for many years until I was sixteen and therefore old enough to make the decision to go natural again. I took the “big chop” and about five years later, decided to grow locs. I’ve been happy with my hair ever since but only now can I truly say that  I have re-learned to love my hair.

A few of my friends have started Facebook pages “Caribbean Natural”run by

TheQuitabee and “Loc’d and Lovin’ it!” run by Nikita Alcide are a couple of my favorites. I check these pages regularly for new posts because I enjoy their tips, styles, videos and photos. I also try to add my voice to the mix by participating in their discussions whenever possible. It makes me feel good to share what I find there and I find myself using more and more home recipes. For instance, I’ve adopted a deep banana conditioner and monthly ACV (apple-cider vinegar) rinse into my regimen. The banana promotes manageability, shine, growth and controls dandruff while the vinegar removes build-up and residue from hair-shafts and closes the cuticles.

I’ve also learned about sister locs, a very popular style in London, and endless variations on styles for all lengths and textures.

TheQuitabeeof Caribbean Natural wearing her chunky fro.

People like Lauryn Hill, Jill scott, India Airie and especially Bob Marley, and entire Rastafari culture, have all influenced me and my love of natural hair.

I’ve always known that natural hair is beautiful no matter what the $1.8 billion black hair product market says with its weaves, wigs and relaxers. I’m just happy more black women are returning to their roots and taking the initiative by finding out and sharing all we know about hair.  Not only it is healthier, but I swear; natural hair looks better.

Personal Interaction and Gossip in Dacia Maraini’s “Woman at War”

Life has slowed down considerably since I graduated and moved back to Louisiana.  I now spend my days working on my novel, filling out applications, taking long walks to Granny’s house, cooking, and catching up on last season’s True Blood (the new season started Sunday!). I haven’t been reading as much; I went from reading one or two novels a week, to starting three and not finishing any this last month. It feels like my days are all lazy days. Though there’s always a lot to do and I try to accomplish something each day, I know I can always do more.

The thing is, I have ample alone time (something I crave as a writer), but I’m discovering that even that can get frustrating. To my surprise, I’m beginning to feel too alone. In fact that’s how the walks to Granny’s house started. I needed the exercise, yes, but really I needed stimulation; writing requires my senses to be alive. How can I create a world the reader will be happy to be immersed in if I don’t get out and explore and experience the world about me?

That walk through the neighborhood, past the park, Botanic Garden, fire station and police training ground, is quite stimulating. The French architecture, huge

Botanic Garden Sunflower

old trees and flowers are visually stimulating, while the herbs at the Botanic Garden are olfactive. Passing joggers smile and wave, giving me a sense of belonging, and it’s kinda cool to have a sea of soon-to-be -policemen part as I jog through with a reggae and soca soundtrack on my iPod pushing me on. All these little things add to the experience, but the talks in Granny’s kitchen are the real inspiration. It’s amazing how talking to the right person can make me feel more myself.

Saturday, I attended a party (baby shower/birthday celebration for the daddy) and delighted in the opportunity to interact with a new circle of women. There were so many new characters, so many personalities to analyse and so many stories to piece together as I tried to figure out how these women were connected. This led me to think about Dacia Maraini’s Woman at War and Vannina, the first person narrator and protagonist who grows through her interactions with a new circle of friends. Vannina never plans it, but while on vacation in Addis, then Naples, the people she associates with, from all walks of life, change her. She tries to, but finds she can’t go back to life as it was in Rome.

Maraini uses gossip as a literary device to make a quick connection with the reader and uses this protagonist in particular, to demonstrate how personal interaction can influence a person. Vannina, a twenty-five-year-old Roman teacher, is introduced at the very onset of her summer vacation and the reader finds her to be a reliable first-person narrator, because she “gossips.” “So starts my holiday,” she writes in her diary and it is important to note that keeping a diary isn’t something she is driven to out of necessity. As far as the reader can tell, she just does it. This means she has no audience to address, no jury or judge to appeal to, and no listener to impress or persuade. The reader can take her at her word and not feel coerced or manipulated into liking or caring about her.

Vannina doesn’t aim to cloak, hide or explain away any aspects of her personality. The reader can trust her. She records her story assuming absolute privacy and appears quite comfortable with keeping a diary. She doesn’t fear prying eyes because not even Giacinto, her semi-literate husband, will read what she’s written. Maraini presents Vannina as having no reason to lie, and like Tota, a native of Addis who quickly befriends Vannina with her penchant for gossip, Vannina doesn’t hesitate to reveal the most scandalous details about everyone and everything in her diary. The text is designed to allow the reader to get to know Vannina in much the same way she gets to know her new acquaintances and friends. The reader can therefore trust that Vannina has no reason to deceive, and since she doesn’t have to worry about what is appropriate, she can talk freely, sharing all the good gossip. The text takes the form of an uncensored dialogue Vannina has with herself so that the reader can eavesdrop on a conversation that gets real intimate real quick.

Though Maraini lets the reader know that Vannina can be a bore (she appears meek and

 subservient in her interactions with the other characters), the text is chockfull of personal reflections and secret confessions. Maraini allows her protagonist to use language that is raw and honest. When she writes in her diary her voice is strong, direct and bold. She notes the most exciting and bizarre things in the most succulent language and writes with confidence and reckless abandon, precisely because she never intends an audience.

Maraini places the reader in the position of ultimate gossip buddy to Vannina, much like Vanina’s early interaction with Tota, who “started talking straight away in a carefree, natural way as if we were two old friends” the narrative voice connects with the reader as it is straightforward and has an intimate and familiar tone (9). This approach lends the work a conversational tone and the familiarity with which the narrator addresses the reader suggests that Maraini uses the first-person narrative voice to evoke gossip, and by extension, folklore.

Like gossip, the stories Vannina records seem shocking and outrageous at first, but one advantage for Maraini is that the reader doesn’t have to guess at what Vannina might be lying about. Maraini’s technique of plunging the reader into Vannina’s story, just as easily as one would “fall” into a bit of gossip, takes the reader as close as possible to what the protagonist really thinks. She also applies an oral tone to the work by using dialogue—usually without tags— throughout the text as a means of inferring this uninhibited speech, or gossip. In this way, the reader gets the story directly from Vannina, not a third party. Maraini aims to recreate a natural meeting between protagonist and reader and she draws a parallel between the new relationships Vannina strikes up with people like Tota and Suna, and the simultaneous impression she makes with the reader.

As Vannina’s transformation from subservient wife to independent woman isn’t explicitly stated as being her intention at the beginning of the work, and does not become her focus at any particular point in the work, her growing self-awareness is presented by the author as being organic, unforced. The shift occurs subconsciously, “I was sunk into a dark and painful sleep for days. On the fifth day I had a strange and obscurely revealing dream which changed the course of my life” (279). Vannina’s transformation/evolution is presented as occurring, naturally, and as unconsciously as her original social conditioning must have.

In this way, Maraini presents Vannina as somewhat in-condemnable. The author doesn’t try to distance herself from her protagonist and Vannina appears to have an acceptable reputation though she engages in actions and events the reader may not approve of. This encourages the reader to side with her, in the same way Vannina chooses not to judge her new friends, and excuse her improprieties.

Vannina eventually comes to admit to herself that some things she believed to be true about herself and the nature of a woman was only in an effort to gain the approval of the people she deemed to be better than her. This belief is a part of her social conditioning. Like a girl, she still wants to be liked, so she is willing to do things not in her own best interest; “I wanted to say no. But I let myself be carried away by the pleasure of saying yes, of being ingratiating, carrying out a task without question, so that I could then be rewarded with the approval of those who were cleverer and more confident than myself. It was just what they expected from me, naturally, it was my role as a woman” (Maraini 110). Vannina grows to understand that her unquestioning acceptance of these norms is unreasonable. Her obedience therefore, doesn’t reflect her shifting self-image or improve her life.  She learns to be more selfish once she has the opportunity to understand the extreme measures people will take for presumed personal advancement. She starts to form her own opinions and begins to take responsibility for her actions.

Maraini, in the tradition of a folklorist, seems to value the oral text as primary in the way she presents Vannina’s story. The diary format, the gossipy tone, and the repeated use of dialogue all suggest an oral text. The stories a society chooses to tell and retell form the fabric of the culture as “[w]ith time and repetition, some examples of human expression become pervasive and common place. When they do, we conceive them to be traditions or traditional; and we can identify them individually or collectively as folklore” (Georges and Jones 1).

Maraini is brave enough to write about these people, in their words. She does what the history books fail to do and allow the reader to experience the everyday activities and daily lives of these common folk by writing about gossip or folklore.  This has been the function of the earliest forms of literature in narratives by Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio and the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer.

Unlike Vannina, I wasn’t exposed to the personalities, characters and energies of the women at the party long enough to adopt any of their traits or develop any major changes in the way I view the world. The women at the party, unlike Tota and Vannina were more guarded, reluctant to share too much, there wasn’t any gossipping, so I came away with very little. My talks with Granny however, are more embracive and should therefore be more influential. What about my interaction with Maraini through this work? I read it, studied it, wrote my final paper on it and even got the chance to talk with her briefly at The John Fowles Center for Creative Writing Annual Reading Series. I hadn’t known it until the words were spoken, but I told her that her work had inspired me to be more bold in my writing. We absorb something of another in the books we read, the music we listen to, the television shows we watch, the people we work with and those we live with, so be aware of what you’re absorbing, what your children are absorbing and how we are all affecting each other as we evolve in this web of life.

Dacia Maraini is an Italian writer. Maraini’s work focuses on women’s issues, and she has written numerous plays and novels. She has won awards for her work, including the Formentor Prize forL’età del malessere (1963); the Premio Fregene for Isolina (1985); the Premio Campiello and Book of the Year Award for La lunga vita di Marianna Ucrìa (1990); and the Premio Strega for Buio (1999).

A Personal Response to Teeth and Spies: What’s the Point?

Maybe the point is I had the most difficult time reading and analyzing Giorgio Pressburger’s Teeth and Spies. The text finds me panicked-yet-joyful as I approach the end of one of the most painful, and at the same time, pleasurable episodes of my life. My time at Chapman University grinds to a terrifying end, creating fear and doubt about an unknown future yet hindsight facilitates a deeper appreciation of the experience as a whole. Soon I’ll be able to put a big pretty bow on the memory of Chapman, a memory composed of all the individual experiences I’ve had here, and simply consider it an accomplishment (ego).

Right now however, in this moment, I can’t do so just yet. First I have to get through this paper, then a final, then a thesis defense, so that each moment remains taut with fear, mental anguish and anxiety. In much the same way, Pressburger presents a protagonist who constantly projects an empty future and experiences the present while analyzing the past. Teeth and Spies therefore captures the complexity of life while demonstrating the inherent difficulty of discovering the meaning of it all.

All these states of being are determined inadequate for providing any acceptable answers to the question of why life is the way it is. Why man is is the creature he is? Why pleasure is linked to pain? Pressburger doesn’t provide answers to any of these philosophical questions, but presents a protagonist who broods upon such questions in old age. Pressburger, with an anonymous protagonist, reveals that everyone has experiences like these. I know I can certainly relate.

People experience pain, and life wouldn’t be worth living without that  pain. How would one know what pleasure is? These experiences, these trials of life, help shape and mold an individual. They force one to constantly redefine oneself. By revealing the impossibility of simultaneously experiencing and analyzing these moments in life, Teeth and Spies demonstrates how life’s experiences encourage one’s appreciation of the different phases and stages of life, even through the difficult times.

Expectations, immediate experiences and memory prove too limiting to ever provide any real answers to the grand question of life, but what of art? The “Author’s Preface” establishes the protagonist’s early formation of life expectations through a single experience. He realizes his own mortality the moment he witnesses the actor’s/beggars recitation (an artistic expression). This leads him to formulate certain expectations about life. His ideas about old age and death are all based on his childhood experiences. He knows fear in that moment and spirals through a life full and complex in its varied phases, good and bad, painful and pleasurable, often all this at once.

The chapters that follow reduce the protagonist’s life to a string of experiences and demonstrate how little time one has for self analysis when busy experiencing the moment. Each moment requires action, doing, living, decision making, and applies pressure, crippling one’s ability to analyze.

Maestro G. appears to be the aggressive, ultra masculine aspect of the protagonist’s personality. Early on, the protagonist expresses the feeling of being linked to another, he says, “someone is holding the other end of the thread, someone is holding me tied to myself and to him, the pain is keeping us tied to one another” (34) and Maestro G. suddenly appears in the same LR3 chapter where the protagonist declares, “Music had entered me” (41). This Maestro G., probably the ego aspect of the protagonist’s personality, is first mentioned by name on page 44; “Maestro G. before he became my mortal enemy.” Can one be one’s own enemy? I think so and will elaborate later in this response.

Maestro G. routinely appears at pivotal moments in the protagonist’s life, offering advice or stepping up to do what the protagonist wants to do, but lacks the courage to. Maestro G. even goes as far as to eliminate Dr.Kraus; “He had killed that dentist, he had wanted to save my life at all costs, just as I had saved his” (181) and is last mentioned as being “in even greater despair than before” when the narrator gets involved in that disastrous affair with Judy (247). Could it be that in finally losing his teeth (aggression), the protagonist was better able to quell that ego and conduct the self analysis necessary to create this text?

The chapters of the text in the voice of the unnamed protagonist (i.e excluding the editor’s notes) are all presented in hindsight. The protagonist’s arrival at old age, a concept dreaded from childhood, provides him the opportunity to look back, place judgment, analyze and attempt to define and explain those most intensely painful or pleasurable moments of his life, yet he still falls short of providing answers. So, what is the point?

My entire experience at Chapman now appears singular, in hindsight, in much the same way the protagonist’s life appears singular in the form of the text. My memories of Chapman will forever remain an amalgamation, and a somewhat unreliable construction, of the countless individual experiences I’ve had here. In much the same way, the protagonist’s life remains a compilation of memories, but the question still remains why? Was it all for nothing? Why would Pressburger create such a protagonist? Why present this unreliable, pain obsessed, violent, unlikable protagonist to readers? And why in this form? Why the duality of it all? Also, does art provide a suitable outlet for simultaneously experiencing and analyzing life? Did Maestro G.’s music make him more reasonable, or maybe even rasher, than the old man he eventually becomes? Does his writing of the text provide him answers? Does the writing of this piece provide me with answers?

Take this my final semester for instance, in knowing that this semester would bring this particular episode of my life to an end, a final chapter in a memoir perhaps, I led with my ego and became my own enemy. I tried to pack as much as possible into the experience, bleeding it for all it’s worth and am now holding on for dear life. As a result, I decided, maybe not consciously, that reading Teeth and Spies would be a painful experience in much the same way the boy convinces himself that growing old is to be a bad experience. Even before I opened the covers to read the first word, I feared and hated it. The experience was tainted from the beginning. Plus, the eerily colored monster-tooth on the cover wasn’t exactly inviting. Teeth and Spies was just another thing that had to be done before I could get that all important passing grade and attain what I’ve been determinedly pursuing for the past three years; those degrees. It didn’t help that when I finally opened Teeth and Spies, praying for an easy, enjoyable read, though not really expecting the former, this is a Mark Axelrod course after all. I got the most complex and confusing text that I have ever encountered in my student career (I used to think Lolita was complex).

That first read was a slow and extremely painful experience as I couldn’t get past the protagonist’s voice, the complicated structure which requires an introduction, foreword (including international notations and diagrams), excerpts from a father’s prison diary, dental terminology, spy codes, wars, historical dates, affairs, violence, pain, pain and more pain. Even in going over my notes, analyzing, trying to decide what to write about, I came away not knowing what I should have gained from reading this novel. I knew Axelrod chose this text for a reason, but what was Pressburger’s point? How to get to the root of it?

It was only with looking back, trying to analyze the work as a whole that I began to enjoy the idea of such a text. Pressburger’s genius lies in the way the text haunts a reader; the same way his spent life haunts the unnamed-old-man-protagonist trying to repent and make sense of a lifetime of experiences. It doesn’t matter if the protagonist, S.G or Maestro G. is reliable. It doesn’t matter if I hate or like his character. It doesn’t matter what order we read the sections in or that we have an Introduction, Foreword, Author’s Preface and a staggering collection of chapters all struggling to find meaning within themselves. What matters is that the paper has to get done and the experience, no matter how painful was also enjoyable in spite of my expectations.

Maybe the point is in having done it, having read it, having experienced what there was to experience even when one never gets all the answers. What would be the point of doing it if we already knew the answers? The ego wants to project that future but in the end, one can only get there by actually experiencing it. The protagonist had to experience all these trials before he reached that old age he had projected in childhood.  It is therefore fitting that I struggled with this response, that I struggled through the text, that I struggled through the MA/MFA program, for now I can almost see the end.

Still, I can only truly appreciate that sense of relief that comes with having endured once I have complete this paper, passed this course, earned those degrees and move on to asking “what is the point” of the next book, the next episode, or chapter in my life. I may find that in the end I did “all that delicate work for nothing” but I don’t think so. Maybe the experience is enough and doesn’t need to be judged as being either good or bad, just done.

A Lesson in Art Appreciation from Sir Dunstan St. Omer By Nadia Alcee-Miller

Artist Sir Dunstan St. Omer Photo by Chris Huxley

Sir Dunstan St. Omer is a St. Lucian born master painter and renowned muralist. He was born in Castries St. Lucia on October 24th, 1927 to Gerald and Louise St. Omer and was raised in a Catholic household.  The second of three children, a young Dunstan attended the St. Aloysius Boys Roman Catholic Primary School and later the St. Mary’s College. His interest in art developed under the tutelage of Harold Simmons, his Art teacher, who taught him to appreciate the beauty of the country, its’ people, landscapes and seascape. St. Omer therefore spent many weekends exploring St. Lucia’s countryside, searching for inspiration.

The Hon. Dunstan St. Omer works on his Prometheus Mural at the Open Campus site in Saint Lucia. The mural features man receiving from God, the gift of fire and light.(Photo Compliments UWI)

Sir St. Omer married young and fathered nine children. He painted at night and sold his art by day. St. Omer would eventually succumb to the pressures of poverty, and turn to alcoholism, but quit the day his son came home upset. The boy’s friends were referring to him as a drunk, so St. Omer gave up drinking and remains sober to this day.

Sir St. Omer later moved to Curacao to work for Dutch Oil and got the opportunity to work with the country’s most prolific painter, Pandelis. Upon return  to St. Lucia, he taught at the Vide Bouteille Secondary School and also managed to teach part time at his alma mater, St. Mary’s College, and the Extra Mural Department of the University of the West Indies. Sir St. Omer studied art for a year in Puerto Rico, worked as editor and sub-editor for a local newspaper, The St. Lucia Voice, and was Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce. He became the Art Instructor with the Ministry of Education in 1971 where he remained until his retirement in 2000.

National Flag of St. Lucia designed by Dunstan St. Omer

Sir St. Omer is known as the most religious painter in the Caribbean region. Famous for designing the St. Lucia National Flag, he has also produced several versions of the Black Madonna. He remains interested in the love of mother for children and believes that a man’s only role is to protect a mother and her children. Sir St. Omer has done many murals depicting community life and cultural activities unique to Caribbean culture. He says he was used to the European version of God as an artist, but wanted to explore an image that represented himself and his people. He painted his first Black Jesus mural in a small church in Jacmel on the western coast of St. Lucia. This mural depicts the Holy Family, not just Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, but also several members of the community, including a dancer, a fisherman, an Amerindian woman and child, and a musician, images that mirror the faces of the people who worship there every Sunday. When it came to unveiling the mural for the first time at the dedication of the new church on an Easter Sunday morning, Sir St. Omer admits to experiencing anxiety, he wondered whether the public would embrace his version of God. Not surprisingly, the people were thrilled and felt that Sir St. Omer had given them a church that finally belonged to them.

St. Martin de Torres, the first black saint, Castries Cathedral. Photo: Nancy Atkinson

After this project he was asked to work on the restoration of the Holy Cathedral in the city of Castries in conjunction with Pope John Paul’s Second visit in to the island in 1985. On this project, Mr. St. Omer painted his own interpretations of many religious figures and scenes. He painted yet another portrait of the Holy family; Mary the Queen of Heaven, St. Martin de Torres the First Black Saint, Patron Saints St. Anthony and St. Jude, Archbishop Webster and St. Dominique Founders of Monasteries, The Martyrs of Uganda and a mural of the Last Supper. Pope John Paul commended St. Omer’s ingenious work, and since then, visitors from around the word have come to The Holy Cathedral to pay homage to his work.

St. Omer dedicates all his work to the Virgin Mary, inscribing each of his pieces with the letters PSLV Pour La Sainte Vierge, or, “to The Virgin Mary.” In his view, people gravitate towards Mary because she personifies love. In 1987, St. Omer was approached by the parish of Francois in Martinique to help restore their church, which was destroyed by fire. Within a period of three months he painted his greatest prismatic work, a style of painting that was established by St. Omer and his friend, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, when they studied cubism in the 1950’s. In Martinique, St Omer portrayed the Life of Christ from birth to crucifixion with the final scene depicting Armageddon.

St. Omer's The Holy Family Mural Roseau Church Photo: Nancy Atkinson

Sir Dunstan St. Omer has received several accolades for his work over the years, including the St. Lucian Cross, a papal medal bestowed by the Roman Catholic Church, and has been declared a national hero by the Folk Research Center. In 2009, Sir St. Omer received the Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) from the University of the West Indies for his outstanding contribution to art in the region and earned knighthood by Queen Elizabeth the Second in April 2010.

I was a student at St. Joseph’s Convent Secondary School in St. Lucia when I got an unexpected lesson in Art appreciation from this great artist. My class walked down Cedars Road and through the streets of Castries all the way to the City Town Hall on Peynier Street. We attended an art exhibition organized by Mr. Dunstan St. Omer and his sons in commemoration of St. Lucia’s twelfth Independence Anniversary from Great Britain and viewed art pieces by local students as well as adults. I was surprised to see family portraits by preschoolers on display, and found the pieces amusing. I did not think these drawing deserved to hang next to works by great artists like Dunstan St. Omer and his sons, so I snickered. Mr. St. Omer heard me and quickly chastised me before my peers. He taught me a valuable lesson when he told me that art could not only be found in galleries, but in everyday life, and in all forms. He insisted that, from a child’s simple drawing, to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, paintings, and all art in general, was valuable and needed to be revered and respected as such.  In that instant, Sir St. Omer, my favorite artist, inspired me to embrace all forms of art and appreciate them as masterpieces in their own right.

Self Portrait Photo by Bruce Paddington Founder of Prismism

Sir Dunstan St. Omer has created great art and has a unique style of painting that truly speaks to me. His works portray familiar faces and grace communities and landmarks in my beautiful island country of St. Lucia. Sir Dunstan St. Omer has helped develop my appreciation for art and also helped broaden the artistic views of my fellow St. Lucians. He has made excellent contributions to the development of St. Lucian culture through his work and dedication to his craft. I remain inspired by all he has done, and grateful for that simple yet valuable lesson he taught me on what was just a regular afternoon in Castries.

Note: Biographical information provided by Strabon Caraibes, Caribbean Beat and Visit St. Lucia Anytime.

Nadia Alcee-Miller is a wife and mother of a three-year old daughter. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but hails from the beautiful country of St. Lucia. She is currently pursuing a Nursing degree
at Concordia University, Wisconsin. She is very passionate about people and teaching and would like to be a nurse educator in the future. She enjoys reading, cooking, baking, entertaining and spending quiet time with her family.

Food and Family in Erri De Luca’s “God’s Mountain”

Erri De Luca (Image compliments: Hyde Park )

Erri De Luca was born in Naples in 1950. He is a columnist for Il Manifesto and a novelist whose work has been translated into seven languages. He lives outside of Rome.

De Luca’s International bestsellerr God’s Mountain demonstrates how important family is to one’s development and highlights the important role food plays in Neapolitans’ interpersonal relationships and social interaction. In God’s Mountain De Luca uses food to create a sense of place and manages to reveal intimate details about the people and their culture.

All the food mentioned in God’s Mountain can be found locally; pulled out of the sea (tender octopus), baked down the street (by Dirty Gigino) or prepared in one’s home kitchen. This intimate relationship with food, and by extension, the people who prepare the food, is reflective of the respect Neapolitans have for family and community. “It’s important to be two, a man and a woman, in this city. He who’s alone is less than one,” the unnamed thirteen year old narrator says. De Luca demonstrates how relationships are forged, developed and nurtured through the sharing of food. It is therefore possible, as the story progresses, to trace the development of the narrator’s relationship with Maria by noting how their familiarity increasing from meal to meal.

Image compliments pizzicletta

In one of the young lovers earliest meetings the narrator is hungry yet he refuses to accept some of Maria’s bread and butter. “I stand in front of her and my stomach feels empty. I’m hungry for bread, to take a bite out of her slice of bread and butter. She offers me some. I say no.” (26) This refusal of food, even when hungry, indicates a lack of familiarity and lack of intimacy in their new relationship.

Image compliments Dan Fredman

In contrast, the Christmas meal displays a real intimacy between the two. It occurs right after they have made love for the first time; “We serve the capon with potatoes, sitting close to each other, side by side. We eat with our hands, bumping our elbows into each other, then we look and laugh at each other in the dark.” (116) “We put a blanket over our shoulders and eat the almond cookies….“ Next time I’m going to make a pie,” she says.” (117) The young lovers are more familiar with each other at this point and the sharing of a meal that they’ve both prepared reflects the level of comfort they draw from one another. With this meal there is not only an intimacy but also the promise of tomorrow, a next time, and probably a lifetime.

Bread with Quince Jam. Image compliments Orange Truffle

Early on in the text we learn that the food signifies one’s level of poverty. The narrator writes in his diary, “At snack time some kids used to take cakes out of their bags. To us poor kids, the janitor would hand out bread with quince jam” (7). The narrator knows he is different based on food. The narrator also chooses to leave school at the age of thirteen due to the fact that his income is needed at home. He has the opportunity to offer financial help in a household where his aging father cares for him and his dying mother. Food is such a basic necessity that it is the only thing we ever see the narrator regularly spend his money on. The sharing of a meal then, this hard-earned necessity, is more than just a friendly gesture; it is an invitation to intimacy, to a place in a person’s life or story.

Food is a necessity and though it is to be enjoyed, anything more than what is absolutely necessary or immediately available is considered a luxury. That is why when “The old man, the landlord brings pastries, a luxury to Maria’s family,” as a way to buy the girl, coax her back to his bed, and leaves “ the pastries behind,” the family chooses to indulge in this rare treat. (74) Eating pastries is a luxury Maria’s family doesn’t refuse though the pastry bearer himself is vile.

Image compliments The Tea Chest

When the narrator starts drinking coffee, instead of coffee substitute, it is a sign that he has matured, as is his leaving money for food. The narrator says, “I was only sharing an affectionate thought about coffee that I’ve only just gotten to know and that I like a lot, black with no sugar. I leave money on the table to buy what’s missing from the kitchen.” (143) Maria’s wine drinking is therefore a similar sign of maturity as she drinks wine to replace her menstrual blood, “ She says that her blood is running but it’s not a cut, it’s a change that women go through. She drank the wine to get her blood back.” Her wine drinking as well as the high heels she later wears mark her as a woman.

Food is therefore important in the development of interpersonal relationships, family and community. Neapolitan’s remain connect to their past, their heritage, and their culture through food and De Luca allows us into the kitchens. Family life, friendships and relationships unfold around the kitchen table so that the kitchen table becomes the heart of Neapolitan culture. The narrator’s father speaks to him concerning the important issue of his mother’s health at the table, the young couple gets fatherly advice from Don Ciccio and the narrator often swaps stories and experiences with Rafaniello over lunch.

The stories behind the food reveal a great deal about the people and their culture. The capon, a castrated rooster, is an Italian delicacy. Maria’s maccheroni frittata dish is made with left over pasta

pizza margherita (Image compliments Yum Ciao)

suggesting poverty. The pizza margherita the narrator’s father request is named for Queen Margherita of Savoy who visited Naples to escape the cholera epidemic in 1899. The ingredients represent the colors of the Italian flag and reaches more than a century into the country’s past. Through food we get a glimpse of the culture of Naples.

Erri Deluca will read at Chapman University’s Leatherby Library on April 4, 2011 as part of the annual Fowles Center Reading Series http://www.chapman.edu/fowles/

Poetry, Music, Art: A Celebration to Benefit St. Lucia

I was born and raised in St. Lucia, a tiny island in the West-Indies, and though it may be viewed as just a dot on the world map, I wouldn’t trade my small island upbringing for anything in the world. At 16 degrees north of the equator, St. Lucia wears a fertile skin of dark rich volcanic earth covered in lush vegetation, and rises pristine out of the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean to fold itself into fecund hills and majestic mountains, deep valleys and serpentine rivers all fed by cool tropical rains.

Masquerader on the streets of Castries depicting a pregnant Mary as part of Christmas Celebrations in the city

The island brims with sensuality and life.  The waves’ constant caress carves sandy beaches out of the shoreline and keeps the island and its inhabitants isolated from the rest of the world. As a result, St. Lucians have development a rich and unique culture. The combination of St. Lucia’s impeccable natural beauty and its deep culture that inspire me as a writer. I grew up reading books that took me on journeys and adventures all around the world, creating a longing for foreign places, peoples and languages, but it is St. Lucia that grounds me as a writer.

Castries habor in the background

I had no idea I wanted to be a writer until my late teens, but I think the seed was planted long ago when I attended Methodist primary school and learned that Derek Walcott, had attended my school. By secondary school, I was introducing myself to my classmates saying, “My name is Natalie and I’m fascinated by Greek Mythology.” My good friend Kama and I still laugh about it to this day. I then sat in Mrs. Edwards’ class at St. Joseph’s Convent and soaked up all she had to say about literature. It wasn’t until then that I began to think that I too could someday write great stories. The woman displayed a passion for Caribbean Literature that inspired me to want to read more, to dream that I could someday create and share my very own stories. From there I attended the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College where I studied under Kendel Hippolyte and his wife Jane King Hippolyte, two of St. Lucia’s most noteworthy poets. My time with them was what truly convinced me that writing was what I wanted to do with my life. I remember having a serious conversation about it with Kendel. He told me that it wouldn’t be easy, but well worth it if I was prepared to work hard at my craft, and I am forever thankful for his guidance. Now, as I work on my first novel, I can truly appreciate how inspiring St. Lucia is for a writer.

Severely damaged road in Tomas' wake

I followed the news of Tomas from my Los Angeles apartment remaining glued to my computer. Countless images and stories kept appearing on facebook and I couldn’t pull myself away. That same tropical rain that nourishes all life on the island had become torrential, causing landslides and mudslides, damaging roads and infrastructure, washing away homes, livestock and vehicles.

Damaged home

The southernmost districts of Vieux Fort and Soufriere, home to Hewanorra International Airport, the famous Pitons and the world’s only drive in volcano, were most heavily impacted by the strong winds and heavy rainfall. I know Soufriere and Vieux Fort, but couldn’t recognize them once Tomas had left them disfigured, hardly recognizable. I cried.

Soufriere endured the brunt of Tomas’ rage, getting cut off from the rest of the island as chunks of the major artery of roadway circumventing the island were washed away.  The town could only be reached via boat following the storm and residents were trapped without fresh water or electricity as authorities struggled to address the threat of waterborne diseases. Locals were advised not to consume meat off dead cattle and to boil all drinking water. The John Compton Dam was also severely damaged and roads leading to the dam were impassable, cutting off access to any and all water supply. In the end, there were fourteen confirmed deaths, including one American whose vehicle ran off a road and fell down a precipice. The Prime Minister, Stephenson King, described the island as a “war zone” and damages are estimated to be in the amount of $100 million US dollars after an air survey was conducted.

I followed all this online and was lucky enough to talk intermittently to my mother.  She stays in the north of the island and managed to remain safe throughout it all.  Landlines were down but we could still reach each other via her cell phone until the battery died. The family home suffered minimal damage due to flooding, but my aunt wasn’t so lucky, she lost part of her roof to the strong winds.

Doing laundry after the storm

I was still very affected by all the information coming out of the island when I returned to campus the following week but was somehow unaware that I was carrying the weight of it around with me. I felt helpless, hopeless, and something of a traitor for not having shared the experience with my people and was deeply saddened by the idea of not being able to offer any help from all these thousands of miles away. It was a typically beautiful Southern California day when I emerged from my apartment and returned to campus. The sight of all the smiling young people, students, going about their business as usual, seemingly without a care, struck me as tragic. I felt alone, like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. It was in that moment that I realized how everyone around me was unaffected by this serious, devastating incident in St. Lucia. The news hadn’t made any ripples in America because a small island like St. Lucia does not get a lot of attention in the international media.

It was then that I decided to do whatever was within my power to help. Because I couldn’t afford to send food, water or money home, I approached Patrick Fuery, the Chair of Chapman University’s English Department about the possibility of hosting a fundraiser. Dr. Fuery’s reaction was positive and encouraging, and as a result, the fundraiser, Poetry, Music, Art: A Celebration to Benefit St. Lucia, is scheduled for April 5th at Chapman University.  I am therefore extremely thankful Dr. Fuery and the English department, Catherine Keefe, a Chapman alum, and editor of dirtcakes, for sponsoring the poetry contest, Dr. Anna Leahy of Tabula Poetica, for being my mentor and working with me on planning this event. To Lynne Thompson, thank you for agreeing to read your poetry. Donna Grandin, much love for your donation and photographers Chester Williams and Bill Mortley, and Stephen Paul, thanks for allowing me to share your images. My sincere thanks to poets, Kendel Hippolyte, Jane King Hippolyte and Travis Weekes. It feels good to know there are people willing to lend a hand.

Spotlight: Michelle

My Name: Michelle

Where I live: Orange County, California

Favorite Excuse: I don’t really have an excuse for not working out, although there are sometimes reasons I can’t. I try to run at least five times or 25-45 miles a week and usually do. I’m almost always training for a marathon, so not running isn’t an option. I also attend a weekly spin class. I wish I could do more, though. I’d love to take yoga two or three days a week and lift weights more often than I do. Between work, school, writing, and my training schedule, it’s hard to fit all that in.

My Inspiration: Pushing myself beyond my perceived physical limitations has always inspired me. When I used to run five miles, my “unattainable” goal was ten. When I ran ten miles, a marathon seemed like Everest. When I ran my first marathon, the new goal was to qualify for Boston. I just ran the insanely vertical North Face Endurance Challenge trail marathon in San Francisco last month and have my eye on the North Face 50K next year. I’m also going for a personal best at the Orange County Marathon in May, so I’ll need to find some new inspiration for speed work.

My workout habits/Personal Strategy: Food and music are critical to my running success. I always try to eat an hour and a half to two hours before running. I have really low blood sugar, so running on an empty stomach is disastrous for me. I’ve nearly fainted on runs before, so I never take chances. Since I have to run before or after work, timing meals and snacks around my runs can be tricky. I schedule my long runs (12-22 miles) on Sundays, which means getting up around 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. to eat and get out the door before dawn. Those are hard days. I also have to refuel every five or six miles, so I usually stash packets of GU and Fig Newtons in my pockets.

Music is also really powerful – it’s super corny, but I always listen to the Top Gun soundtrack in my car when I’m driving to a race. By the time I get to the starting line, I’m pretty amped. The right song can also keep you going when you think you’re not going to make it. At some point during a marathon or long training run, I enter a zone in which time seems really abstract. Sometimes hours pass, and I realize I’ve listened to the same song on my iPod for miles. I ran about 17 miles of the 2009 San Francisco marathon to “It’s the Climb” before it occurred to me to change the song. Thank goodness for the zone, though; it helps you forget how much pain you’re in!

Spotlight: Loverly

My Name:LoverlyWhere I live:Gothenburg, SwedenFavorite excuse: “It’s to cold outside! lol…it usually is in Sweden!”

My inspiration: As I get older- my health, trying my best to live a healthy /balanced lifestyle, feeling great (I believe if you feel great about YOU, then everything comes together in full circle!:)

My workout habits: Hmmmm…I am not the least bit a “workout” person. Mundane routine workouts like going to the gym won’t work for an energizer bunny like me.  I tend to get bored with daily workout routines, so I try to mix it up. However, for many years I have maintained the routine of walking for at least one hour every day. I love walking! It’s my therapy session, plus I get to burn a few calories. Since the weather can be brutal in Sweden, I usually go swimming two days a week when I’m unable to go walking. That amounts to two one-hour sessions, which, I must say, is the best full body work out for me! I love it! I sometimes go hiking with friends, play badminton, dance at home, (lol..I know) and of course, keeping up with an energetic two-year-old can keep anyone in shape! lol

Personal Strategy: I do what works for me. I don’t kid myself by starting workout routines that I know will be short lived. If you do what you love, then it just becomes a way of life and not a task, and since I love to walk, walking has been a way of life for me. No matter what, I know that as long as I am able, my daily walks will be a part of me, always. Also, I believe in setting limits and boundaries. I try to make seven pound weight gain the limit, and then get back to form. Otherwise, it is just too easy to loose oneself in the weight struggle!

A Little Fitness Inspiration for the New Year

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope you enjoyed the season, got to spend quality time with those who matter most, had a little downtime to reconnect with yourself, and now feel rejuvenated and ready to face 2011.

Many of us make resolutions to lose weight in the new year and have no idea where to begin, so I thought I’d  share my workout habits, though I’m no expert, and pose the following short interview to a few of my friends. I’ll go first, introduce the first young lady, my high school friend Anamai, then go on posting a new response each day that follows.

I chose these ladies for their varied approaches to fitness and the fact that their fabulous bodies help keep me inspired and motivated. I hope their unique approaches will inspire you to develop an approach that works best for you. No two people are the same, no two bodies are the same, and no one knows you better than yourself, so trust your instincts, listen to your body and have fun!


My Name: Natalie

Where I live: Los-Angeles, California

Favorite Excuse: “Too much reading/writing to do.”

My Inspiration: Friends, Beautiful weather, Desire for a feeling of general wellness when things get too stressful, Music.

My workout habits: I visited my neighborhood Y.M.C.A this summer, played volleyball two or three times a week with a bunch of friends I met in the park, tried my arm at tennis, but all this got to be more and more infrequent as the semester wore on. Very very infrequently I go hiking at Runyun Canyon; it’s not often that I feel compelled to brave the freeway, though it might be well worth the drive. I get a pretty cool view of the city and the Hollywood sign, plus I might run into a celebrity (I once saw “William” from Girlfriends and I hear that J-Lo hikes there).

These days I’m mostly indoors, so I get up and dance for as long as I like whenever I feel the need to let the music move me. Sometime, when it’s nice out (that’s often enough), I ride my bike in whatever direction the wind blows. I also like doing You Tube yoga classes in my living room whenever I need to get centered.

My personal strategy: I’m a very spontaneous person so I rely on my feelings to decide what I want to do. I find that I can’t really stick to a schedule, so I pay close attention to how I’m feeling on every level. I’ve learned that neglecting one aspect of my being affects every aspect; if I’m not physically active I pay for it mentally and spiritually and vice-versa for each. Kundalini yoga and meditation take care of the physical and spiritual, while school, reading and writing, all challenge my mind.

Now to introduce the first of my friends:



My name: Anamai

Where I live: Miami, Florida

Favorite excuse: “I’m too busy, I need to ease myself back into it”

My Inspiration: My friends who are dedicated athletes, Shaun T and his Insanity program, Never having to count calories or diet.

My workout habits: I used to keep my weight down by smoking. YES! TERRIBLE, I KNOW. Smoking was an on-again, off-again habit for me for a couple of years. I also used to count calories, submerge myself in my work and practice strict diet regimens. This worked for a while, but I started noticing that my arms were losing definition, my hips were widening and my core was becoming engorged. I also often experienced back pain, which led to me having to stretch every few minutes in an effort to alleviate the pain.

All that changed once I was introduced to Shaun T’s Insanity program. The first day I tried it, I was wheezing, gasping for air, pausing the video and lying on my back while my heart pounded away in my ears. Shaun kept encouraging me (the audience) to pace myself and to take breaks if necessary. At the end of the Fit Test I was only able to do one-sixth of what Shaun and his trainers were doing (if that). I checked off my first day on the calendar and kept going.  There were a few days I took off, but I just kept at it.

By the third week, I felt like a completely different person! I was keeping up with the guys on the DVD and sometimes even outperforming them! I was getting amazingly toned, fit and CONFIDENT! My hair, skin and nails were renewed! The back pain was gone! I felt amazing! For the first time in my life, I felt like I had found the “magic pill” to being the person I always wanted to be. I was singing in the shower and was able to hit the high notes! My mood was 100% improved. That’s why I encourage others to try this workout. It is why I’m such an advocate.

My personal strategy: Keep fitness as a VERY important and necessary part of my life. To keep outperforming myself and pushing myself daily and remaining focused on my goals. People are now telling me I could be a fitness model. Just imagine if I were able to keep this up for a few years. I think fitness can be a part of even the busiest lifestyle because all it takes is a few minutes a day to transform your body and your life. I am not an actor for an infomercial. I’m a real person who has experienced it, so I will remain steadfast in my fitness goals for myself and always look towards self-improvement.

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